Erdogan Admits Turkey Ignored Deadline to Free Pastor Brunson, Blames Trump 'Plot' as Economy Tanks

L: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 25, 2017. R: Pastor Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine. | (Photos: L: REUTERS/Umit Bektas R: Facebook/Andrew and Norine Brunson)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted he ignored a U.S. deadline for releasing pastor Andrew Brunson, as his country faces severe financial difficulties.

Turkey's currency, the lira, continued crashing to record lows on Monday, with Erdogan blaming the U.S. government for a "political, underhand plot."

Erdogan claimed that U.S. President Donald Trump is waging an "economic war against the entire world" by doubling tariffs on steel and aluminium, The Independent reported.

"The aim of the operation is to make Turkey surrender in all areas, from finance to politics," the president said in a speech before supporters in the city of Trabzon.

Erdogan also revealed that Turkey was given a deadline until last Wednesday to release Brunson, the American pastor at the center of current U.S.-Turkey tensions, but it was ignored, CNN noted.

"They are going to make us slaves to the dollar. Foreign exchange, interests... so what? They (US) said, 'if you don't release the pastor by 6 p.m. on Wednesday we will start sanctions.' They are going to sanction our interior and justice minister," he said.

Brunson spent nearly 20 months in jail while awaiting trial based on charges of assisting terror groups, something that he and the U.S. government strongly deny.

He has been transferred to house arrest but his fate remains unclear. The trial is set to continue in October.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who has campaigned for Brunson's freedom, told Fox News on Sunday that the evangelical pastor must be released if Turkey wants to restore its relationship with the U.S.

"The chargers against him are complete shams. It's a bogus event regarding Pastor Brunson and others who work for the American embassy. They had nothing to do with trying to topple the government," Graham said, referring to other Turkish citizens working for the U.S. embassy who have also been arrested and accused of plotting against Erdogan.

"This relationship needs to be repaired. It's in Turkey's interest to have a good relationship with the United States and it's and in our interest to have a good relationship with Turkey."

Again, he emphasized that the best way to restore the ties is to "let pastor Brunson come home."

Erdogan remained defiant in his speech on Sunday, however, and insisted that the trial against Brunson is legitimate.

"I want them to know that we will not surrender. We will keep producing and we will keep increasing exports," he said.

"We will not give in ... if you come at us with your dollars then we will find other ways to do business ... The U.S. is sacrificing its 81-million-strong ally Turkey for a pastor with links with terrorists."

The Turkish leader has also claimed that Christians and other religious minorities are not discriminated against in his country, using as evidence a statement signed by several churches earlier in August.

Anthony J. Limberakis, national commander of the Eastern Orthodox Church order, revealed that the churches were pressured into signing the letter, however.

"The Order of Saint Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, regrets the pressure that the Turkish government has clearly placed upon that nation's religious minorities in obtaining a statement on religious freedom from them," Limberakis stated.

He added that it is evident that the statement from representatives of the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches "was obtained under duress."

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

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